What is it about the sound of an out-of-key trombone that is so absurdly funny? I have no idea, but Trombone Champ proves this is absolutely true. A hilarious new rhythm game from developer Holy Wow, Trombone Champ has you play as a trombonist tooting along to the music. Featuring famous classical songs such as Beethoven's 5th Symphony, this game shines for one reason: You can play any note at any time, leading to some of the funniest moments I’ve ever experienced in a video game — all thanks to the horrendous sound of playing badly. Beyond its humourous premise, Trombone Champ is an expertly designed music game that will challenge even the most skilled players. Doing well is a challenge, but doing poorly is even more fun.
It’s better if you’re bad at it
Similar to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Trombone Champ throws a stream of notes at you and it’s your job to hit them at the right time. But hitting the notes accurately is a tricky challenge that takes lots of practice to master. Unlike traditional music games that cut out when you miss or play the wrong note, Trombone Champ actually lets you hear what you played even if it’s incorrect. It’s like the developers unlocked a huge secret for a self-serious subgenre that makes it infinitely better.
You have to hit each note precisely and hold it for just the right amount of time or it’ll sound completely out of key. And you’ll probably hit the wrong notes most of the time, at least at first. The worse you play, the more punishing the rating. Hit a note perfectly and you’ll get a “Perfecto” rating, but if you play the wrong thing entirely, you’ll earn a “Nasty.”
There is no good or bad here, just the simple comedy of Perfecto vs. Nasty.
Even beyond the humor of playing a nasty note, the game’s avatars resemble Nintendo’s nightmarishly charming Miis. Watching them flail around butchering classic songs will always be funny. There’s even a breath management mechanic wherein your character actually turns red when they can’t breathe. It’s about musical performance yes, but they’re also kind of fighting for their lives.
More than just a joke ... mostly
Trombone Champ is more than just a silly joke. Its most clever design choice is to still reward bad players with a laugh, while those who learn to master the mechanics can chase high scores and earn the satisfaction of playing the songs correctly. In other words, it’s a game that almost anybody, even non-gamers, can pick up and enjoy with very little hassle or commitment.
Interestingly enough, Trombone Champ actually has an element of realism in some ways. For instance, you can navigate across the vertical line on the lefthand side of the screen — and where you are on the line corresponds to the note’s pitch. So you can go all the way to the bottom and play a note to hear the low rumble of the trombone, or go all the way up to make a squeaky sound — with everything in between.
This gives players the option of freestyling, which will surely cause an uproar of laughter.
Trombone Champ excels because it doesn’t rely on its punchline to reach its goal. Sure, the humor is what brings players on board, but the fact that its gameplay is so well designed gives it an edge.
Holy Wow knows exactly what it’s doing with this game. Everything from its design to the marketing has led to its sudden success. Referred to as the “world's first trombone-based rhythm music game,” you’re instructed to “honk, blow, and toot your way through” the game’s tracks.
It’s easily one of the best taglines for a game ever written.
Trombone Champ is currently available on PC via Steam for $15. Although that might sound a little pricey for a silly game, it’s less expensive than a trip to the movies and offers countless hours of entertainment, especially if you’re bad at it. The best way to play is to gather a group of friends around to take turns slaughtering songs until your sides hurt too much from laughing.
You might not learn to be the world’s best tromboner by playing Trombone Champ, but this game will probably make you cry with laughter, which is the next best thing.
Trombone Champ is available on Steam now.